Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Kristina and Caroline

Last night, Australian Story on ABC1 featured Kristina Keneally, former Premier of the Australian Labor Party. Kristina gave birth to Caroline, who was stillborn. Caroline had a fatal birth defect and died upon delivery. The episode was compelling and powerful. This woman is an inspiration, not only to babylost mothers, but to women everywhere.
I have always found her to be very dynamic and have liked her strength and fearlessness. This was before I was aware that she had suffered the stillbirth of her daughter.
What resonated with me the most, was again, just how much I could relate to the things she was saying about her experience. I find it truly remarkable that so many women who suffer infant loss say exactly the same things.

Kristina's husband, Ben said: "A few days later we went back to the hospital. It was very strange being in a maternity hospital and knowing that there were children being born all around and that that wasn’t going to happen for us."
Oh snap. I was hearing the first cries of babies being born in the birthing suite next door as I laboured with Sybella. I had a hard time believing that my own baby wasnt going to make a sound when she came out. It was an intensely painful feeling.

Kristina comments: "I do remember coming home and there was that damn vacuum cleaner. I just threw it and I broke it. Before I went to hospital I had been there with my normal life doing normal things like vacuuming - and when I got back my normal life was still there, but it wasn't. It was so vastly different. And that vacuum cleaner just seemed to symbolise all of that."
I remember leaving for my routine 34 week appointment with my GP. As I walked out the door, I noticed a giant bird dropping on the outdoor steps. I rolled my eyes and made a mental note to get Kelvin to scrub it off. Of course, it was at that appointment that I learned that Sybella had died. I didnt return home again until after I had delivered her and spent some time in hospital. That was about four days. When I got home, the bird dropping was still there. I looked at it incredulously, wondering how on Earth things had changed so much since I last looked at that damn thing.

Kristina goes on to say: "The absolute sadness of becoming the mother of a stillborn child, of Ben and I becoming the parents of a stillborn daughter. We felt like we were entering a club we didn’t know existed. We felt like we didn’t want to become members of this club..."
It is a horrible club to belong to, yet, some of the women I have met through our experiences have been the most understanding, gentle yet strong women I know. Each and every one of them fight for their child's memory. They dont allow their child to be forgotten, just because that child isnt physically present. These women are the most beautiful mothers I know. Isnt that bittersweet, that the most beautiful mothers are ones who dont have their children in their arms?
The palpable sadness of being the parent of a dead child stays with you every day. You are reminded all the time, at all the special occassions...Christmas, birthdays. You never stop wondering what your baby would be doing at that time, if they were here. It's just so sad.

One particulalrly poignant question that Kristina asks is: "It’s the biggest question women ask themselves - Why did this happen? Why did this happen to my baby? Why did this happen to me?"
How many times have I asked myself that? I spent Jack's entire infancy trying to protect him from harm. SIDS terrified me. The thought of one of my children dying (before it had actually happened) sent me into panic and I couldnt bear the thought of it. I read stories in magazines about women who had lost children, and I often cried. I couldnt imagine it happening to me. So why did it? Why was I chosen to be a babylost mother? I dont think it is fair. It's not fair that children die at all. I've learned just how redundant it is to ask 'why?'

Kristina says this, and this is self explanatory. She echoes the thoughts of probably every woman who has lost a baby. "Stillbirth is a tragedy...it was most remarkable to me how much I could love a tiny little baby who had never drawn breath. It’s impossible to compare the loss of Caroline to anything else I’ve experienced. The loss of a child stays with you forever."
I couldnt have said it better myself. Sybella's death was such a defining moment for our family. And the worst thing that has ever happened to us. Nothing else comes close.

Her final and most profound comment is: "I know something you guys don’t know. I know something about me that you guys don’t know and that is that I am tougher than you understand. I am tougher than you think because I have been through something truly awful and I have survived it. I’ve come out the other end."
It's true. You can deal with anything once you've dealt with this. It makes you so tough. Sometimes being that tough is tiring. But it makes you a better mother, I think. It makes me fiercely protective of my living children, which is why I advocate so strongly for childhood vaccinations. It makes me careful and aware of their safety at all times. It makes me live for their happiness and security. And it gives me the voice and the inclination to spread awareness about stillbirth and to keep the memory of Sybella alive. Because stillbirth and infant loss make some people uncomfortable...so being tough ensures that I can keep on keeping on in regards to my daughter and her memory.

You can read the full transcript or watch this episode of Australian Story here.


  1. I was at the Stillbirth Foundation event last year when Kristina spoke and I meant to write to her to thank her. I should do it now. Her words will forever stay with me.

  2. Hi Steph,
    I've been following your blog since the beginning of the year. Just thought I'd let you know that I am also a grieving mother.

    Your blog made me cry today, like is has done so many other times but the rawness and the strength behind your words this morning made me feel things that were deeply buried until a time like this, nearing christmas, that's when I become a fragile girl who has lost her baby.

    I have living children but at times I am overwhlemed when I am watching them playing and there is that "void" that is so obviously there.

    I am so overly protective of my now 3 year old son who was my subsequent baby after loss. Sometimes I feel like Im a made women!


    At least I am not alone.

  3. Hi Melissa. I am so sorry about your little baby. Of course, none of us are ever alone in this. I have met some of the most wonderful people through my grief. Of course, I wish I'd met them under different circumstances.
    I too, am intensely protective of my little one born in February last year. People say you relax as you have more children. Not me.
    Love to you.